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Notre Dame Mendoza Essay Analysis 2020–2021

Notre Dame MendozaThe application essay requirements for the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame are fairly straightforward and classic—or at least the written ones are. First, candidates must provide a brief statement of purpose covering their immediate career goal and how the school can help them achieve it. Then, they are asked to choose one of two prompts for an essay of up to two pages. Both include a short preamble about an aspect of the school’s history, indicating Mendoza’s pride in its origins and its belief in learning and taking inspiration from its past leaders. One of the essays focuses on applicants’ view of business as a “positive force,” and the other on a setback or obstacle. Applicants must then craft a four-slide presentation that offers more information about themselves as individuals while also demonstrating their communication skills. Read on for our in-depth analysis of Mendoza’s prompts for this season. 

Statement of Purpose (100 words or less): Please share your short term professional goals. What role does a Notre Dame MBA play in helping you achieve these goals?

Mendoza’s requested statement of purpose focuses strictly on applicants’ initial post-MBA job. Business schools know only too well that students regularly change their long-term professional plans after being exposed through the MBA experience to new people, information, and options and after learning new skills and ways of looking at the world and themselves. Given that reality, asking about candidates’ long-term goals can in some ways be a waste of time, if an admissions committee is not simply doing so to see evidence that the applicant has put serious thought into their plan for attending business school. With the first part of this prompt, the school wants to know that you have thoroughly considered this next step in your career and are pursuing an MBA for very clear, specific reasons. Although the school does not ask you to lay out your background and explain how you reached this choice, providing some basic context for your goal is a good idea (just be succinct!) to ensure the admissions committee understands that your plans are reasonable and fitting for you.

Without using these exact words, the school is also asking for an explanation of “Why Mendoza?” The admissions committee wants evidence that you have researched its MBA program thoroughly enough to have pinpointed resources and offerings that directly align with your interests and needs. This is the part of our essay analysis in which we once again repeat our advice about getting to know a school beyond its website and published materials. Identify clubs, events, courses, initiatives, and other opportunities that speak to who you are as an individual and to who you want to be going forward in your career. Ideally, Mendoza offers one or more particular resources or experiences that you believe are vital to you in achieving your short-term goal and are not available elsewhere. In your response, explain how you will engage with these elements of the MBA program and what you expect to gain from them.

This prompt encompasses a few core elements of a traditional personal statement essay, so we encourage you to download a free copy of our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide for more in-depth advice. This complimentary publication offers detailed guidance on approaching and framing these subjects, along with multiple illustrative examples. 

One essay (maximum of two pages, 12 point font, double spaced) – Choose ONE of the essay topics below

Essay Option #1: Cardinal O’Hara established the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame in 1921, firmly committed to the idea that “the primary function of commerce is service to mankind”. As the world economy continues to grow and change, how do you see business acting as a positive force in the world?

At first glance, this prompt may seem a little odd—as though the school is more interested in your opinion about this aspect of business than it is about you as a potential student. But the admissions committee obviously wants to learn more about you, and with this essay question, Mendoza is simply taking an unusual route to a familiar destination. 

What “being a positive force in the world” entails and what “service to mankind” looks like will vary in definition from person to person. Each applicant’s views have been influenced by their specific values, background, education, career, and so on. So, your opinions will tell the school quite a bit about your individual character and mind-set. First, spend some time thinking in depth about how you would answer this question. Consider companies and business leaders that come to mind as both positive and negative examples of influencing or altering the world. What do the positive examples have in common, in your view? And what makes the negative ones negative? What have the entities you admire been able to positively influence, and why does this matter? What issues, or kinds of issues, do you think business can work to improve? And which ones do you feel business should work to improve? Do this initial brainstorming in a kind of vacuum, with no outside influences, to try to pinpoint your most authentic and deeply held beliefs. This exercise will of course help build a foundation for your essay, but it should just be the beginning of your preparation.

Next, closely read and familiarize yourself with Mendoza’s stated mission, in which the school says it prepares its students “to become ethically minded problem solvers” and believes “business can help transform the world for the better.” Clearly, this essay is meant to help the admissions committee identify those candidates who exhibit this kind of potential and share this precept. You of course do not want to just parrot the school’s tenets back to it in your own words or abandon your own initial views in favor of what you think the school wants, but identifying and highlighting areas where your beliefs and those of the school overlap could certainly strengthen the impact of your essay. 

For your response, be sure that once you have presented your views and supporting explanation, you demonstrate a connection between them and your own professional aspirations. One would naturally conclude that if you truly hold the beliefs you are stating in your essay and are aspiring to attend Mendoza to earn your MBA and advance your career, you must be interested in making your own positive impact on the world through your work. And Mendoza wants to know that you intend to embody its mission in your professional life after you have graduated from its program.

Essay Option #2: The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842, by Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C, with a mission to become “one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country”. In 1879, Father Sorin’s vision for Notre Dame appeared to be at a sudden, abrupt end. A massive fire destroyed the building that housed virtually the entire University. Instead of giving up, Father Sorin interpreted the fire as a sign that he had dreamed too small, and decided to rebuild, bigger and better than ever. That Main Building still stands today, topped by the gleaming Golden Dome, not only as an iconic campus building, but as an ongoing symbol of perseverance and vision.

Tell us the story of a time in your own life or career when you had to overcome an obstacle, start over, or rebuild.

Setbacks are important learning opportunities. With this prompt, the admissions committee wants to know what you take away from situations in which things do not advance or turn out as you had planned or hoped. Do you place blame elsewhere and try to make excuses? Or do you view these sorts of experiences with an analytical eye, using what they can teach you to achieve better results with similar ventures going forward? For this essay, the admissions committee does not simply want you to relate a story of an unsuccessful or challenging endeavor but also wants to learn about how you react to such situations and what you learn from them. Mendoza clearly knows that many of life’s greatest successes require one to “try, try again,” as the expression goes, and that is the attitude necessary to gain and accomplish the most, not just in business school but also in the world after graduation. This essay is your opportunity to reassure the admissions committee that you have the kind of resilience and dedication that will position you to realize your goals.

Note that Mendoza does not specify that the story you share in this essay must be a professional one, so explore all your personal, family, and community life experiences as well to find one you believe was truly significant and influential. Within the school’s preamble to the main query, we see a not terribly subtle hint that Mendoza feels failures and setbacks should be viewed in a positive light—as inspiration to keep trying and even to aim higher than before. So if you have a story of an incident that did not initially result in success but that spurred you on to try again or keep going until you triumphed and reached your goal, this would likely be a strong option for this essay. Your goal is to convey that you are not easily deterred by setbacks but that you instead use them as learning tools or stepping stones on the path to your desired outcome. 

The failure or obstacle you discuss in this submission could be one you experienced as an individual or as part of a team, and the scale or scope of the situation is not as important as how affecting and influential it was for you personally. You must present a complete narrative that shows momentum toward a positive outcome, describes the inflection point at which the situation turned, and explains how the original plan was interrupted or ultimately failed, while revealing your particular role in the setback—again, without attempting to shift the blame onto others. Avoid starting your essay with a bland statement like “I had to start over when [fill in the blank]” or “One of my biggest failures was when [fill in the blank].” Instead, leap directly into the action of your story and immediately convey what was at stake in the situation. Next, briefly explain the obstacle or setback you encountered, and then dedicate the rest of the essay to demonstrating your reaction to the situation and what you took away from it. Then, explain how what you learned inspired you to pursue either another goal or the same one again and proved crucial in your attainment of it. 

Slide Presentation

Effective communication is a central skill for managers and visual presentations are an important method of communication. Demonstrate your ability to clearly and concisely communicate by telling us about yourself, using a short slide presentation. 

Please consider the following guidelines when creating your presentation:

  • Please submit four slides.
  • You may create your slides in any software that works for you, but you must save and upload as a .pdf.
  • Do not use audio or video files.
  • You are free to share anything about yourself that you think would be of value to the Admissions Committee. You can have some fun and be a bit more lighthearted in this portion of your application. Your tone should reflect your personality.
  • Please be assured that the Admissions Committee will read your essay, your resume, and your transcripts in detail. Your slides are an opportunity to go beyond your academic and work history and show the Committee who you are as a person.

We imagine that the initial reaction most candidates have to pretty much any prompt that does not request a traditional essay is momentary panic (though, to be fair, that might be many applicants’ reaction to traditional essays as well), but let us reassure you a bit before we delve more deeply into how best to approach this one. This “essay” is merely a creative way of asking you to reveal who you are as an individual, apart from what all the basic elements of your application already convey about your job, your education, and your activities and interests outside of work. 

In this case, you are communicating directly with a very singular audience, within a certain context, and with a very specific goal in mind. So start by carefully considering what you want the admissions committee to know about you—with the goal of sharing as many different aspects of your life and personality as possible—and what it will already be able to learn through your other essays and the rest of your application. You want the admissions committee to take away something new from each slide.

Note that the prompt does not say your slides have to be made up entirely of text. They could perhaps also include pictures, drawings, paintings, charts, tables, emojis, and so on. And even though getting accepted to business school and earning an MBA are serious undertakings, this does not mean that all the information in your slides needs to be serious in nature, especially if your personality is naturally more casual and cavalier. As the prompt itself states, “You can have some fun and be a bit more lighthearted in this portion of your application. Your tone should reflect your personality.” Comical elements, if used judiciously, can even be valid options if the resulting slide is truly reflective of your character and/or life.  

That said, avoid being “gimmicky.” Your goal is not to seem “cute” or even more creative than the next applicant but really just to tell more of your personal story, albeit in a rather brief way, and thereby provide a more dynamic image of yourself for the admissions committee. We suggest you start by grabbing some paper and making an old-fashioned list of your key experiences, achievements, interests, and personality traits. Then, consider what information the admissions committee already has about you from your other essay(s) and elements of your application, and strive to showcase items from your list that best complement that information to create a well-rounded picture of you. 

We also caution you against trying to squeeze too much information into your presentation or making it too “busy” or elaborate. After all, the admissions committee clearly notes that one of the goals of this submission is to “demonstrate your ability to clearly and concisely communicate,” as you will be expected to do in your career after graduation and also in the Mendoza classroom. You will need to show that you can judiciously identify relevant additive information and convey it in an uncomplicated, easily understood manner.

Optional – Personal Statement / Additional Information

If there is information that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee that does not appear elsewhere in your application, you may choose to submit a personal statement. This statement can provide additional context for any part of the application that you feel requires more explanation. 

Please limit your optional statement to one page.

Mendoza’s optional essay prompt does not specifically demand that you use it only to address problem areas in your candidacy, though it does seem to imply this preference. Ultimately, this is your opportunity to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your profile—if you feel you need to. You should certainly not submit an optional essay simply because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. And of course, however tempted you might be, this is not the place to submit a strong essay you wrote for another school or to offer a few anecdotes you were unable to use in your other submissions. But if you are inclined to use this essay to emphasize or explain something that if omitted would render your application incomplete, write a very brief piece on this key aspect of your profile. For more guidance, download our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how best to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples.




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